The Witched Canoe #2

  In print, the tale of the Flying Canoe, La Chasse Galerie dates back to 1891 but it was an old tale then and told across Canada. It’s told about French-Canadian lumbermen as well. Logging as a career probably came after that of canoe paddling/fur trading. There’s lots of variation. One ends with the voyageurs being condemned to fly the canoe through hell and appear in the sky every New Year’s Eve. Another is that the devil is the steersman who tries to get the others to break the rules and is thrown out of the canoe by the voyageurs in order to save themselves. The Flying Canoe stays alive in popular culture. David Perrett, an artist in Winnipeg recently created an amazing sculpture from a diseased elm tree — the flying canoe held by a giant hand. The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver Opening Ceremony featured a canoe containing a fiddler was lowered from the ceiling—reminding viewers of the legend. A feature film Chasse Galerie:La Legende was released Feb. 2016. The tale inspired one of the oldest rides at Montreal’s La Ronde amusement park. Called La Pitoune, it’s a log flume ride, but overhead is a representation of the flying canoe, with the devil perched behind the terrified men. The high bench at the back of the log-cars is therefore referred to as “the devil-seat.” The ride La Pitoune closed May 2017, having been operating since 1967. This story is so much fun that I’ve rewritten it as a Readers’ Theater script: Characters from “Waters Like the Sky” exaggerate as they tell it to each other. I’ll post the script on my website under “Resources” and then and...
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For a wild ride, try a Flying Canoe

Get cozy on a cold night. Here is a popular French-Canadian story — the tale of the Flying Canoe. (also known as La Chasse Galerie, The Bewitched Canoe and The Wild Hunt.) It’s New Year’s Eve at a far-flung trading post. The voyageurs are lonely, nervous about their sweethearts back home who are probably being romanced by men closer at hand. How can these desolate men keep their true loves loyal when they are so far away? And the men have to be present to work the next morning. One of the engagés finally suggests calling on la chasse-galerie, a magic flying canoe, for a one-night journey. The men agree. The engagé who knows the secret invokes a devil* who extracts a deal to fly this canoe. For this privilege of returning to their village and returning by dawn, the voyageurs vow not to swear, drink or touch a cross or crucifix — or they forfeit their souls. Of course they agree. They start paddling and — amazingly — their canoe rises so they can see rivers far below. Then the wind takes over and gives them a thrilling ride, rocketing them over treetops, dipping down over frozen waterfalls, nearly crashing into many obstacles because their avant and gouvernail don’t quite know how to steer using the wind. Or maybe it’s the devil — they don’t know. But they see the village lights and the bewitched canoe touches down near their home. No one there thinks twice about the voyageurs’ unusual arrival from an impossibly distant place. They all have a wonderful time dancing and singing and celebrating. Until the wee hours when — Cinderella-ish — the voyageurs realize it’s past time to get back if they are going to make it to work the next day. Some have broken the promise not to drink. How will the devil take this breach? Because they have been partying, steering on the return route is haphazard, and the canoe careens around, barely missing church steeples and tall trees, snowdrifts and open waters. And because of their chaotic steering, others swear and touch their own “forbidden” crosses, praying in fear of death. Somehow they manage to get home, plowing into a snowdrift (or a pine tree) just short of their own post as the sun peeks out, in the nick of time. Luckily, the devil does not take his due, though they...
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